How Chipotle Creates Delicious Experiences (and Increases Revenue by 25%)

chipotle customer experience 2

Listening to the news, you’d think the popularity of fast food was on the decline. But that’s certainly not the case for Chipotle, the “darling of the Mexican fast food world,” as Gregory Ciotti, marketer for Help Scout, refers to them in his article on the company. And if you’ve ever walked into a Chipotle restaurant, you know what I’m talking about when I say their customer experience rocks!

But what you might not know is just how well the company has been performing in recent years. In Q1 of 2014, Chipotle reported these remarkable figures:

  • Revenue increased 24.4% from Q1 2013 to $904.2 million
  • Comparable restaurant sales increased 13.4% from Q1 2013
  • Net income increased 8.5% from Q1 2013 to $83.1 million

So what makes Chipotle different from a competitor like Taco Bell?

How does Chipotle increase sales by 13.4% when the rest of the market is stagnant or fully reliant on discount pricing?

One reason: Chipotle create delicious customer experiences that are addictive!

Here’s how they do it:

1. Chipotle offers super-fast service

chipotle customer experience - fast service

How many times have you waited 10 minutes or more at Taco Bell or Burger King? These so called “fast” food restaurants aren’t always that quick. Chipotle has sped up service by six transactions per hour at peak times by using their “Four Pillars of Great Throughput.”

Steve Ells, Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer for Chipotle, says the company places a big emphasis on the customer experience. “The most effective thing we’ve done to speed up throughput in the last couple years has been to implement what we call the four pillars of throughput,” he said.

Here’s what it looks like (from Loyalty 360’s article):

  • Expediters: The extra person between the one who rolls your burrito and the one who rings up your order.
  • Linebackers: The employees who patrol the countertops, serving-ware and bins of food, so the ones who are actually serving customers never turn their backs on them.
  • Mise en place: What means setting out ingredients and utensils ready for use in a regular restaurant means, in Chipotle’s case, zero tolerance for not having absolutely everything in place ahead of lunch and dinner rush hours.
  • “Aces in their places”: A commitment to having what each branch considers its top servers in the most important positions at peak times, so there are no trainees working during burrito rush hour.

Gregory Ciotti notes this is “eerily similar to another company with top-notch service: Nordstrom.” He writes about what Nordstrom does behind the scenes to empower their employees in this article.

What you can learn from Chipotle:

Your processes don’t have to mirror what your competitors are doing. Set your standards higher. Think outside the box and innovate your customer experience. Chipotle challenged the status quo and restructured their food delivery process to increase the number of customers they are able to serve per hour.

What can you do – better processes, new technology or otherwise – to speed up and improve customer service at your company?

Related: How To Use Amazing Customer Experiences To Remain Competitive

2. Chipotle offers personalized, customized service

chipotle customer experience - personalized service

In today’s world, customers want everything done their way. That’s one of the reasons why online shopping has become so popular – customers love to be in control!

And that’s what I love about the Chipotle experience. They have cooking stations right in front of you so you know your food is fresh and you can order your meal with any combination of their offerings, like black or pinto beans, white or brown rice and mild, medium or hot sauce.

With a very straight-forward menu and clear pricing, Chipotle makes it easy for you to build your perfect meal – customized just the way you want it.

You would be hard-pressed to get this type of customization ordering from Taco Bell. Can you image asking for extra fajita vegetables at Taco bell? You’d be lucky to get a laugh out of them.

The point here is that in today’s world, we are super picky and somewhat demanding. We want everything personalized to our own tastes. Chipotle caters to these needs by making it easy to customize meals.

What you can learn from Chipotle:

Personalized service has improved Chipotle’s customer experience.

Can you think of something that your company can personalize for your customers that will add more value?

Chipotle challenged the idea that fast food had to be standardized. They saw an opportunity to offer a more customized menu that gave customers more flexibility and control. Even with this added customization, they’ve been able to increase the speed of their service.

So what does the future hold for a company like Taco Bell? How do they compete? If speed is no longer the competitive advantage, would you still buy their food based purely on quality and taste?

3. Chipotle creates an experience beyond Mexican food

chipotle customer experience - decor

Delivering a customer experience that goes above and beyond expectations is not an easy process. Chipotle certainly does so with their comfortable and relaxing atmosphere.

Unlike traditional fast food restaurants that seem to be designed specifically to get you in and out quickly, Chipotle has a soothing, relaxing vibe – much like Starbucks. In fact, industry analyst David Tarantino says Chipotle is changing fast food the same way Starbucks changed coffee shops and Home Depot changed home improvement.

Instead of Chipotle being just a restaurant where you order food and go, it’s now a meeting place where you can get together with friends and share a meal. With a relaxed atmosphere and comfortable seating, it’s a place you want to stay a while and enjoy a casual dining experience that’s fast and easy with a bit of class to it.

What you can learn from Chipotle:

You don’t have to settle for providing an ‘okay’ experience. Strive to exceed expectations –to go above and beyond for your customers.

Chipotle has used the customer experience as a competitive advantage – they continually wow customers and in turn, create thousands of loyal, raving advocates that keep coming back for more.

The customer experience doesn’t began and end with selling a product. Draw inspiration from Chipotle by creating a great overall experience – consider what your customers do before and after they buy from you. Consistency is the key to customer satisfaction – make sure all your customer touch points reflect the experience you want to deliver.

Delicious experiences are created by challenging the status quo

Any company can be competitive by copying what the others are doing. But the companies that succeed and exceed revenue targets are the ones that are innovative. In Chipotle’s case, they thought differently about the customer experience and it’s worked – they changed the game and have reaped the rewards. They are, after all, now the new darling of Mexican fast food.

steve ells chipotle customer experience quote

Tweet this quote

Your thoughts

What can you do to change the game in your industry? What’s holding you back from delivering a delicious customer experience?

Did you like this article? I highly recommend these other blog posts:

Tagged: Customer Experience

About Ross Beard

Ross Beard was on the marketing team at Client Heartbeat, the simple customer feedback tool. Learn how Client Heartbeat makes improving customer satisfaction easy.

  • shirtsleeve

    Great post! Another thing Chipotle has done is stay in front of health eating trends. We just did a trends report that showed shifting preferences towards healthier foods and lifestyles (71% of Americans say they’re eating healthier now than two years ago). Chipotle’s approach to quality ingredients puts it in a great position.

    See more here:

    • Ross Beard


      Yes, I agree, Chipotle’s healthier food options and ‘Food With Integrity’ program are certainly contributing to their impressive figures.

      Which fast food restaurants do you think will follow Chipotle’s lead towards healthier options?

      • shirtsleeve

        My guess is that they will all pay lip service to it to some extent, but when deep fried deliciousness is in your brand’s DNA, I don’t know that you can really become something new. I would guess that we’re more likely to see healthier chains emerge… although I to think there’s the opportunity for casual dining places to adopt a healthier approach without throwing their identity out the window.

  • Les Morpions

    Chipotle – when you need to purge

Improve Satisfaction and Retain Customers

A simple customer feedback tool that surveys customers, measures satisfaction and identifies unhappy customers.

Try Live Dashboard

Improve Customer Satisfaction

Client Heartbeat sends personalized email surveys to your customers on a periodic basis to measure customer satisfaction. Use the data and feedback to focus on improving overall satisfaction.

Retain More Customers

By using past scores and industry data, Client Heartbeat identifies unhappy customers are 'at risk' of defecting to competitors. Get instant email notifications so you can follow up and stop them from leaving.

Gather More Feedback

Our surveys get industry high participation, often over 60%. This means you get more actionable customer feedback that you can use to improve satisfaction.